Hidden In Snow by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. For The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
TERRY GROSS: And that’s music that my guest Trent Reznor co-composed for the new American version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” There’s something so industrial, machine-like about - not the keyboard part, but what was going - that kind of whooshing, pulsing thing behind it. What did you use to get that sound?
TRENT REZNOR: We wanted to take lots of acoustic instruments, from strings to lots of different bell instruments and prepared piano - which is what’s featured in “Hidden Snow” quite a bit - and transplant them into a very inorganic setting, and kind of dress the set around them with electronics.
So you were hearing a lot of live, modular synthesizers creating a kind of icy or pulsing bed with something that feels very non-electronic, an organic and imperfect instrument played imperfectly, sitting on top of that. And that’s kind of one of the templates we use for this film.
GROSS: Prepared piano is when you open up the lid, and you kind of stick stuff on the piano strings so it doesn’t sound like it typically should. What did you prepare it with?
REZNOR: We picked up a bunch of upright pianos for cheap, and then we just started trying things, from clothespins to nailing nails into where the strings go, some of it ruining the instrument, some of it just creating imperfections so that you’d have to learn to play certain melodies a certain way because certain keys wouldn’t work. Certain notes would ring in funny ways and create interesting interactions between the notes.
It’s a very hit-and-miss procedure, and also very volatile because you might get something good, but when you - the melody you’re looking for, the string changes or the clothespin pops off, or the item that’s sitting on top of the strings buzzing just right isn’t there when you go back to that note. It’s a frustrating, but fun process to go through.
GROSS: In a way, the kind of sound that you get when you’re doing your more kind of industrial soundscape kind of stuff, it’s, in a way, the kind of sound that we’re constantly trying to block out because there’s constantly, like, soda machines that are like buzzing in the background or, you know, like some kind of like washing machine that you’re trying to tune out or refrigerator that’s vibrating.
You know, there’s so many, like, machines that we really try not to pay attention to. Have you ever, like, focused on those sounds and tried to hear, like, what’s interesting about that?
REZNOR: Oh, very much so. And I think early on in my career, I was heavily inspired by bands like Throbbing Gristle and Test Dept, and films of David Lynch, for example, where the soundscape plays a very important role in the listening experience. In Nine Inch Nails’ catalog, for example, as early as “Downward Spiral,” there was a lot of effort and experiments going on layering in sounds that might bother you under music to create a sense of anxiety.
And I’ve always found that it’s an interesting kind of instrument to bring into the mix, creating melody and/or purpose out of noise, and the various shapes noise can take, whether it could be the hum of a radiator, to a room tone that could be compressed and amplified and even tuned in to kind of become something that makes you - that evokes some sort of emotional response.